Archive of September 22, 2006

Parishes can “rediscover” themselves through inspiration of apostolic model

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - Today at Castelgandalfo Pope Benedict XVI received participants in the 22nd plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, presided by Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko.  The Holy Father told the participants, who are gathering to discuss the theme “The Parish Rediscovered. Paths for Renewal,” that while programs are important, true renewal and rediscovery occurs through profound encounters with Christ.

The Pontiff began by praising the work of the Pontifical Council, noting especially the work accomplished with World Youth Day and the meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities this past Pentecost

Benedict recognized that the purpose of the council’s meeting is to ponder the question of the parish community from “an operational point of view,” but warned them not to disassociate the operational from pastoral aspects of parish ministry.

"Indeed," he continued, "theological-pastoral aspects and operational aspects cannot be disassociated from one another if we wish to understand the mystery of communion, of which the parish is called to be an ever greater sign and instrument."

The Pope then outlined certain "essential criteria" for "understanding the nature of Christian communion and, therefore, of each parish," referring to the first Christian community of Jerusalem, which was "devoted to listening to the teaching of the Apostles, to fraternal union, to the 'breaking of bread' and to prayer, a welcoming and united community, even to the point of sharing everything they had.”

"The parish can relive this experience, and grow in understanding and fraternal cohesion through prayer ... and listening to the Word of God, especially if it participates with faith in the celebration of the Eucharist presided by a priest. ... The hoped-for renewal of the parish cannot, then, arise only from pastoral initiatives, useful though they are, nor from programs worked out at a theoretical level.”

"Drawing inspiration from the apostolic model," the Pope added, "the parish 'rediscovers' itself in the encounter with Christ. ... Nourished by the Eucharistic bread, it grows in Catholic communion and walks in complete faithfulness to the Magisterium," while "the constant union with Christ gives it the strength to commit itself ... to serving our brothers, especially the poorest for which its often the primary point of reference."

The Pope concluded his address expressing the hope that the work of the plenary assembly may contribute "to making the lay faithful ever more aware of their mission in the Church, especially within the parish community, which is a 'family' of Christian families."

Archbishop Rylko’s reflections

Yesterday, in an interview with Vatican Radio about the 22nd Plenary Assembly of his dicastery, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, emphasized that parish renewal, “is possible and is the task of all: priests, laity, associations and ecclesial movements.”

In the interview, Archbishop Rylko said the theme of the Assembly, which will conclude on September 24, is parish renewal and he noted, “Despite the numerous difficulties that exist in our secularized world, the parish ‘continues to maintain and to carry out its particular mission, which is indispensable and of great relevance for pastoral care and the life of the Church (Ecclesia en Europa, 15)”.

Likewise, the archbishop continued, “Today people speak and write much about the parish, but often only to criticize and denounce.”  He emphasized that the Assembly’s goal is “to review the different concrete projects of parish renewal—already taking place in different parts of the world—that seek to restore its vitality and missionary impetus.”

Archbishop Rylko explained that the parish should be, as Pope Benedict said during his recent visit to Germany, “an interior homeland of the people, a great family in which we experience the life of a larger family, which is the universal Church, learning from the liturgy, catechesis and all the expressions of parish life to travel on the road of true life.”

“The renewal of a parish cannot simply be by decree from a desk.  Structural changes, while necessary, are not sufficient,” the archbishop maintained.  “What is needed is a permanent formation of the laity in an adult faith, a serious program of true and proper Christian initiation of the baptized:  the rediscovery thus of the role of Baptism and of the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life.  This is where the true renewal of our parishes lies,” he stated.

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Vatican writer says Pope won't back down from call for reason in dialogue

Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - Pointing out that Cardinal Camillo Ruini has grasped the essence of the pontificate of Benedict XVI better than other Church leaders, Vatican insider Sandro Magister released a new column today supporting Ruini’s praise for the Pontiff’s “splendid” lecture at the University of Regensburg.

On Monday, the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome and President of the Italian Bishops Conference told a group of Italian prelates that it was, “a cause of surprise and sadness that some of the statements in the lecture have been misunderstood to the point of being interpreted as an offense against the Islamic religion.”  

The Pope, he said, was trying to foster, “a true dialogue of cultures and religions – a dialogue which we need so urgently.”

Magister points out that it is because the Pope knew just what he was doing and is not afraid to do it, that he will not, “fall silent or backpedal.”  The dialogue with Islam is a real concern of the Holy Father’s, as so many at the Vatican have noted in recent weeks.

And, as for the words of Emperor Manuel II Paleologos (who is quickly becoming the best-know Byzantine emperor of all time) Magister holds that they were deliberate.  

The time of the emperor, like our own times, were filled with war and holy war, Magister notes.  Yet in the midst of such conflict Manuel saw the need to bring his Persian counterpart, “to the terrain of truth, reason, law, and violence, to what marks the real difference between the Christian faith and Islam, to the key questions upon which war or peace between the two civilizations depends,” the Vatican writer explains.

Pope Benedict, too, is asking Islam, “to place a limit of its own on ‘jihad.’ He proposes to the Muslims that they separate violence from faith, as prescribed by the Qur’an itself, and that they again connect faith with reason, because ‘acting against reason is in contradiction with the nature of God.’”

And, Magister concludes, Benedict will not be silent or backpedal because he is hopeful. “He would not have been so daring if he did not believe in the real possibility that an interpretation of the Qur’an that marries faith with reason and freedom can be reopened within Islamic thought.”

This is why, despite voracious criticism from the Arab world and the West alike, Magister coninues, the Holy Father neither apologized nor retracted a single line of his speech.

“The lecture in Regensburg was not an academic exercise for him,” Magister continues, “He did not put aside his papal vestments there in order to speak only the sophisticated language of the theologian, to an audience made up only of specialists. The pope and the theologian in him are all of a piece, and for everyone.”

As Magister points out, Benedict believes that faith must again be wedded to reason and that he must raise his voice to call for such a marriage in the secular West.  

“In reality, almost the entirety of Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg was addressed to the Christian world, to the West and to Europe, which in his view are so sure of their naked reason – too sure – that they have lost the “fear of God,” Magister writes.

The lecture at Regensburg, as noted by Cardinal Ruini, is a continuation of the same fundamental message the Pontiff had begun to give voice to with his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” and his Christmas greetings delivered to the Roman curia on December 22, in short, that God is both love and “logos,” that there is an “essential link between human reason and faith in God”, and that “this link is not confined to the past, but even today opens up wide perspectives for our desire to know and experience a full and free life.”

See Magister’s column in its entirety at:

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Boston Cardinal “blogging” trip to Rome

Boston, Mass., Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - In his continuing efforts to reach the public and foster a culture of transparency in the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley has started his own weblog, or “blog” site.  The Franciscan-turned-cardinal is thought to be the first cardinal to use such a forum.  O’Malley will be writing in the online diary during his 10-day trip to Rome, which began yesterday.

“I am...looking forward to a new opportunity to communicate directly with Catholics of the archdiocese through my own blog,” the cardinal said in a statement prior to his departure, the Boston Globe reported.

Cardinal O'Malley is going to Rome primarily for a ceremony Oct. 1, during which he will formally take possession of his titular church, Santa Maria della Vittoria. Tomorrow, the cardinal will preside at a mass in San Giovanni Rotondo, in southeastern Italy, honoring St. Pio of Pietralcina, who, like Cardinal O'Malley, was a Capuchin Franciscan friar.

A spokesman for the cardinal said the archdiocese has not decided whether to allow readers to comment or interact with the cardinal through his blog.

The idea for the blog “came out of conversations about his desire to find other modes of communication, especially using technology,” archdiocesan spokesman Kevin Shea told the Boston Globe.

Following his trip to Rome the cardinal-archbishop will consider making the blog permanent, depending on how the experiment goes, the Globe said.

The cardinal’s first entry is already up.  See his blog at

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Pope invites diplomats from Islamic countries to meeting

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI has invited “certain representatives of Muslim communities in Italy,” as well as Ambassadors from Muslim countries to the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo on Monday.

The meeting with Islamic representatives comes as a part of a continuing Vatican effort to clarify segments of a speech made by the Holy Father on the relation between faith and reason and to “relaunch dialogue with the Islamic world,” a senior Vatican official said today.

The speech, which contained contentious quotes from a Byzantine emperor, drew a response of outrage and protest from many segments of the Islamic world.  As radicals in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia responded with violent protests, the firebombing of churches, and the assassination of a religious sister, a few Islamic countries took the symbolic step of withdrawing their ambassadors from the Holy See.  Some of those ambassadors have returned following the Pontiff’s statements of clarification on Sunday and Wednesday.

Despite the Pope’s insistence that his words were meant to be an invitation to dialogue and the restating of his tremendous respect for Islam, several Muslim groups remain in an uproar.

Yesterday Muslim clerics and religious scholars meet in eastern Pakistan to demand the removal of Pope Benedict XVI, the Associated Press has reported.

Benedict "should be removed from his position immediately for encouraging war and fanning hostility between various faiths" and "making insulting remarks" against Islam, said a joint statement issued by the roughly 1,000 clerics and scholars at the end of their one-day convention.

The "pope, and all infidels, should know that no Muslim, under any circumstances, can tolerate an insult to the Prophet (Muhammad). ... If the West does not change its stance regarding Islam, it will face severe consequences," it said.

The meeting was organized by the radical Islamic group Jamaat al-Dawat, which Washington put the group on a list of terrorist organizations in April for its alleged links with militants in the Indian part of Kashmir.

The clerics and religious scholars said they did not consider Benedict's latest comments as an apology. "The pope has neither accepted his mistake, nor apologized for his words," their statement said.

The statement denied that Islam was spread by violent means. "Islam was not propagated with the sword, but it became popular and was accepted by the oppressed peoples of the world because of its universal values and teachings," it said.

The clerics also said jihad was not terrorism. "Jihad is waged to rid an area, state, or the world of oppression, violence, cruelty, and terrorism, and bring peace and relief to the people,” they wrote. “History is full of incidents where Muslims waged jihad to provide relief to people of many faiths, especially Jews and Christians.”

Nonetheless, several Muslim leaders in Rome are saying the Pope’s invitation is an important step and are eager to meet with him.

"We welcome it and are definitely going to participate," said Iran's deputy ambassador to the Holy See, Ahmad Faihma, according to the Mail and Guardian.

"This is a positive signal from the Vatican. I know that this will improve relations with the Islamic world," he said.

Fathi Abuabed at the Arab League's Vatican mission told the paper that "This meeting will be very important, especially in these days, to try to stop every action that is not good."

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European leaders call on EU to support Pope and freedom of expression

Brussels, Belgium, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - Two members of the European Parliament are calling on EU member states to declare clear support for Pope Benedict XVI and for freedom of expression, in the wake of violent reactions to the Pope’s lecture at the University of Ratisbona.

One of the fourteen vice presidents of the European Parliament, Mario Mauro of Italy, sent the complete text of the Pope’s lecture to all 732 members of the legislative body in German, English, French and Spanish, with a press release attached.

Mauro said his intention was to prevent “misinterpretation (of the Pope’s words) in the future” and to get “the European Parliament to express its clear position in support of freedom of expression.”

In his press release, Mauro states that “with his discourse, the Pope simply called for dialogue.  Evidently he has been misinterpreted by a part of the Muslim world and also by the media, which has not been capable of understanding the true thinking of the Holy Father.”

Likewise, the European commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini, said, “The threat against the Pope is not only a threat against the Vatican, against Italian territory and against Christianity, it is a threat against all humanity.”

During a press conference in the city of Tampere, Frattini explained that the Pope symbolizes not only a religion but also a message of reciprocal tolerance and respect.”  Europe, he said, should be united “in defense of this message of tolerance.”

It is not “acceptable” that the message of the Pope has been “misinterpreted” and has unleashed violent reactions, or that “a majority of Muslims be held hostage by a minority,” he added.

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Three Catholic men executed, gov’t denies wake in local Catholic church

Jakarta, Indonesia, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - Three Indonesian Catholic men were executed in Indonesia this morning. They had been convicted for inciting violence, which killed about 200 Muslims, in 2000.

Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu were executed by firing squad after being handcuffed and tied to chairs at an undisclosed location.  According to Fr. Jimmy Tumbelaka, Da Silva and Tibo allowed themselves to be blindfolded, but Riwu refused.

The three men’s lawyer, Roy Rening, said he refused to be present at the deaths to protest a rejection by the state of their last demands, including that their bodies be returned to their families in their home towns or laid in wake at Palu's main Catholic church, reported Australia’s Daily Telegraph. On Thursday, the men had met for the last time with their relatives, their priest and their lawyer.

Father Tumbelaka said the government’s denial of the men’s last request that their bodies be taken to the church for a requiem Mass led by Sacred Heart Bishop Josephus Suwatan of Manado, was deplorable.

"That is really inhuman. It is against human rights," he said. But "we will hold a requiem Mass" led by the bishop "even without their bodies," he added.

Fr. Tumbeleka, who ministered to the three men while they were in prison, said he was concerned that a refusal to hand over the bodies could "trigger more anger from the family and others" in the province, where Muslims and Christians live in roughly equal numbers.

Typically, authorities do turn bodies over to families after executions, following a routine autopsy.

While no protests had been reported in Palu, where police presence had been tightened, UCAN reported that an estimated 9,000 people took to the streets in mostly Catholic Atambuat 8 a.m. to protest the execution. The mob burned the prosecutor's and district court offices, and stoned and damaged 50 other sites including shops, houses, a market, government offices and a prison. About 200 prisoners escaped as a result.

Divine Word Bishop Anton Pain Ratu of Atambua and several Catholic priests tried unsuccessfully to divert the mob to Immaculate Conception Cathedral in a bid to calm the rioters. They were able, however, to lead the mob to the town square. There, in the presence of security officers, the prelate urged the mob not to commit acts of anarchy.

The case of the three poor farmers drew international concern from rights activists, who criticized the fairness of their trial and saw the men as scapegoats. Few others were convicted over the violence, they observed.

Christian leaders had urged their faithful to stay calm and refrain from any violence ahead of the executions, with widespread prayer services for the men being held.

The men’s execution was initially scheduled last month but authorities granted a last-minute reprieve, shortly after Pope Benedict XVI issued a plea for clemency, though a link was denied.

A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI said the executions were a "defeat for humanity".

"It is very sad and painful news. Every time capital punishment is used is a defeat for humanity," said Federico Lombardi.

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Christians and Muslims can live together in peace, says bishop at funeral of slain Italian nun

Mogadishu, Somalia, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - The death of Sister Leonella Sgorbati, killed together with her Muslim bodyguard, Mohamed Mahamodu, who was a father of four, is evidence that “it is possible to live and die together,” said Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibuti during the funeral Mass for the slain nun.

Bishop Bertin, who is also Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, invited those attending the funeral, which included Christians and Muslims, to see the positive message that has come from the life of Sister Leonella, who dedicated her life to the poor.  

“Her life shows us that a new earth is possible, a new Somalia is possible.  I hope that Sister Leonella is the last martyr in Somalia,” he said.

The funeral Mass took place in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Parish of the Consolation, and the body of Sister Leonella was buried at the cemetery of the Sisters of Nazareth, in the suburbs of the city, in accord with her wishes.

At the same time the funeral was being held in Nairobi, Mass was also celebrated at the motherhouse of her congregation in Nepi.  “We wanted to commemorate this moment in order to unite ourselves with our sisters in Nairobi,” said Sister Gabriella Bono, superior general of the Missionaries of Consolation.

“For us it is a great gesture that tells us that it is possible to overcome barriers through the gift of self: she a Christian and he a Muslim.  Both shed their blood for Somalia,” said Sister Gabriella in reference to the killing of Mahamodu.  She underscored that their sacrifice “points to the paths of reconciliation and dialogue, with the certainty that uniting efforts, men and women of all religions can foster fraternity, reconciliation and peace.”

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Pro-life institutions in Bolivia call for prohibition against sale of morning after pill

La Paz, Bolivia, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - The Institute on Bioethics of the Catholic University of Bolivia and the Apostolate of the New Evangelization, ANEPROVIDA, have called on the country’s political and healthcare leaders to prohibit the sale of the morning after pill because of its abortifacient nature and its attack on women’s health and traditional mores.

In response to news that the drug is now being sold in Bolivia, both institutions noted that the pill is “potentially abortifacient” because of its anti-implantation mechanism.

They argued that the drug “can seriously harm the health of women who take it” and can cause cancer and other illnesses.

They warned that the promotion and distribution of the pill would lead to the deterioration of “morality, “especially among teenagers, who think they can have sexual relations, even promiscuously, using contraceptives, and as a last resort, emergency contraception, without getting pregnant.  In this way sexual promiscuity and conjugal infidelity is being promoted.”

The institutions called on all Bolivians to denounce “the illegal sale of the morning after pill.”

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Scholar says Benedict’s speech opens channels for true Muslim-Christian dialogue

, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks about Islam, which were received with violent protests in some parts of the Muslim world, has opened channels for true Muslim-Christian dialogue, says Reuel Marc Gerecht in an editorial published Sept. 21 in the Wall Street Journal.

Gerecht, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, considers the Pope’s speech at the University of Regensburg a “welcome change from the pabulum that passes for ‘interfaith’ dialogue.”

“Since 9/11, his lecture is one of the few by a major Western figure to highlight the spiritual and cultural troubles that beset the Muslim world,” he writes. He goes so far as to lament that the Pope did not indicate how to counter the “troubles” of Islam.

“He should,” writes Gerecht, “since that would begin a real, painful but meaningful dialogue, which will surely cut both ways between the West and Islam.”

Gerecht urges both Muslims and Westerners to take up the invitation to frank dialogue launched by the Pope’s speech, and he bemoans the West’s quick reaction to avoid confrontation and take up a “public position of liberal tolerance.”

“No one wants to offend, so we assume a public position of liberal tolerance, hoping that good-willed, nonconfrontational dialogue, which criticizes ‘our’ possibly offensive behavior while downplaying ‘theirs,’ will somehow lead to a more peaceful, ecumenical world,” he writes.

“Let us be frank: There is absolutely nothing in the Pope's speech that isn't appropriate or pertinent to a civilized discussion of revealed religions and ethics,” he argues.
Gerecht claims many people in the West, and many Muslims themselves, know there is “something amiss” inside Islam though they refrain from admitting it publicly. Muslim clerics also often avoid critiquing their own faith, he says. 

Gerecht believes the Pope accurately identified two key characteristics about Islam, which have contributed to its relationship with the modern world.

 “The prophet Muhammad, the model for all Muslims, established the faith through war and conquest,” Gerecht writes. “And the image of God in Islam … is a cleaner expression of unlimited, almighty will than it is in Christianity.

“When radical Muslims take a hold of this divine fearsomeness, it can untether itself quickly from ‘conventional’ morality, thereby allowing young men to believe that the slaughter of women and children isn't an abomination,” Gerecht states. “In that sense, Muslim jihadism, like fascism, rewrites our ethical DNA, turning sin into virtue.”

“We need to talk and argue about these things,” Gerecht insists. “We need to stop treating Muslims like children.

“To his credit, Benedict has at least tried to approach the invidious issues that will define any helpful discussion,” he concludes. “Westerners are doing Muslims an enormous disservice — a lethal bigotry of low expectations — by telling the pontiff to be more diplomatic.” 

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Vatican participates in European Heritage Days with free admission to museums and catacombs

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2006 (CNA) - As part of the celebration of “European Heritage Days,” an initiative of the Council of Europe, the Holy See will participate with more than 40 countries by offering free admission to the Vatican Museums and the Catacombs of Rome on Sunday.

The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church, the Vatican Museums and the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archeology are all collaborating in the event.

Visitors this September 24th will, with their free entrance, have the opportunity of seeing all of the regular portions of the Vatican Museums, along with the recently-restored Christian Museum of Pope Benedict XIV.

All catacombs in Rome that are normally open to the public will also be free of charge. At the San Callisto Catacombs on the Old Appian Way a photographic exhibition will be inaugurated entitled "Charity, solidarity and the catacombs."

The Council of Europe officially instituted the "European Heritage Days" (EHDs) in 1991, with the support of the European Union.  But the initial events began in 1985.  Since they were launched on a European scale, the EHDs have increased in importance from year to year in terms of both the number of participating countries, which has risen from 11 in 1991 to 48 in 2002, and their success with the public (in 2004 there were more than 20 million visitors to the 32,000 monuments and sites open to the public).

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